Ah, social media. The thing that 2.46 billion people use worldwide. The medium for trolling, cyberbullying, activism, and connecting with friends you haven’t seen for decades.
Two of those things are not like the others. Trolling and cyberbullying are, objectively, bad. Activism and connecting with friends are, objectively, good.
So is social media good or bad?
Well, let’s think this out for a moment. The effects of social media, whether positive or negative, can usually be grouped into two general categories: implicit and explicit. Implicit effects are subtle and compound over time, like deteriorating communication skills. They’re sometimes hard to link back to social media directly, and people may not even be aware of them. Explicit effects refers to stuff that happens overtly over social media, like trolling and activism. They’re easy to see and easy to trace, and it takes very little effort to confirm their existence.
So, with that being said, let’s dive into the implicit effects, effectively outlined by Rebecca’s presentation. I think the thing that shocked me most was social media’s effect on our communication skills. I hadn’t realized how much easier it was to discuss things online, but her saying it made me aware of it. Before, I didn’t have a reason for why I preferred talking about some things online instead of in person. It was kind of chilling to realize that I had gotten used to being able to carefully craft the perfect, non-inflammatory response from behind a screen. Furthermore, I hadn’t realized exactly why social media was so addictive, and that the positive reinforcement from “likes” on Facebook can keep me coming back. I knew that whenever I posted a photo I’d almost obsessively check how many “likes” it got, but I had no idea it was actually making me go on Facebook more.
It makes me a bit disappointed to think of all the time I wasted on social media that could’ve been better spent on more productive endeavors, like finalizing my budget or looking for scholarships. I didn’t even think my social media addiction was that bad. I had always justified it with “there are people more into social media than me,” which I realize now is just an excuse – and made me wonder how many others were making the same excuse. The implicit effects scare me most, because they’re so difficult to notice and so difficult to combat. There don’t seem to be any implicit effects that are positive, which is telling.
The explicit effects are much less negative. For one, Facebook has helped connect people. It’s become synonymous with school group projects, and has provided a means of communication for people who don’t have access to a smartphone’s texting features. As Angela mentioned in her presentation, social media has enabled minorities to speak out and raise awareness much easier than before. The entire process of garnering support for an issue has shortened, which is brilliant. She mentioned that the Women’s March was organized in less than three months and took place across the entire world – a feat that would’ve been nearly impossible in the days of the telegraph. It’s given a voice to minorities, children, and the disabled, while simultaneously empowering them to do something about it.
Oliver and Ajmim’s presentation made me aware of how much easier Facebook has allowed the spread of news, what with shared connections and all. Before social media, it probably would’ve taken days for uncensored coverage of an event to get from Egypt to Canada. But now, because of Facebook’s highly connected and highly aware users, it takes mere hours for events to start trending worldwide.
However, all of these have a corresponding negative. The ease with which awareness can be raised also applies to the proliferation of polarizing hate speech, and to both real and fake news. So, the positives brought on by connectivity and activism are essentially negated by fake news and hate speech promotion.
That brings us to the deciding factor, the negative that has no negation: anonymous trolling. Trolling has no positive, no bright side. It brings nothing but sadness, empowering all the wrong people and only the wrong people. It provides an outlet to those who are dissatisfied with their lives, preventing trollers from confronting the true source of their negativity. It provides “fun” at the expense of others, enabling bullies and harassers. Nothing trolling does makes it okay which is why, after weighing the pros and cons, I’ve concluded that social media has an ultimately negative effect. The cons simply outweigh the pros.
Social media enables connectivity and activism, along with the spread of fake news, the spread of hate speech, and makes anonymous trolling possible. It’s created a generation who can’t stand to be separated from their smartphones, and has facilitated a rise in social anxiety. While the positives are irrefutable and essential benefits, they’re simply outnumbered.